Conflict update: December 14, 2016

Just a short one tonight. I’m traveling and it’s late.


Schrödinger’s Ceasefire appears to be back on.  First Aleppo was under ceasefire, then it wasn’t, and then rebel forces announced this evening (well, technically tomorrow in Syria, I guess) that it is again. Though so far there’s been no confirmation of the resumption of the agreement by anybody on the Syrian government side of the fighting. Reportedly the initial ceasefire, brokered by Turkey between the rebels and Russia, broke down when Damascus and Iran insisted that any evacuation of eastern Aleppo must be reciprocated by a deal to evacuate two villages in northwestern Syria that have been besieged by the rebels. The rebels say they’ve agreed to that term, so in theory there shouldn’t be any more issues. In theory.

Meanwhile, Tayyip Erdoğan said today that his military’s campaign in northern Syria has so far killed 1800 ISIS and Kurdish fighters.


Also today, Erdoğan said that 40,000 people have been arrested since that failed coup in July. Which seems like a lot to me, but what do I know?


The slow work of clearing ISIS out of eastern Mosul is continuing, slowly. A general in the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, Abdul Wahab al-Saedi, said that there are only six neighborhoods left to clear in the east. To the south, Iraqi forces shelled ISIS positions around the Mosul airport, which could suggest that the southern advance is picking up again. Nothing would ease the pressure on the forces clearing the city from the east than for another front to be opened up.

UNESCO is trying to secure what’s left of the site of the ancient city of Nimrud in order to protect the remaining antiquities from looters. ISIS destroyed some 60 percent of the site while it was under their control, an act that is as much a war crime as anything else they’ve done.


Saudi King Salman gave a televised address today in which he declared that Riyadh “will not accept any interference in the internal affairs of Yemen.” You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Obviously he means he won’t accept anybody else interfering in the internal affairs of Yemen, but he can’t say that, so instead we have to pretend that his kingdom’s interference isn’t really interference.


I found some more detail on yesterday’s story about Afghan VP Abdul Rashid Dostum and the accusations that he and his men abducted and tortured former provincial governor Ahmad Ishchi. I confess, I hadn’t seen anything about this story until yesterday. But apparently, late last month, while both Dostum and Ishchi were attending the same buzkashi match in Kabul, this happened:

As heavy snow fell on the muddy arena in northern Afghanistan where a traditional game of buzkashi — two teams of horsemen fighting for a dead goat — was underway on Friday, a scuffle broke out near the stands.

It was not just another group of hotheaded fans going at it. The man who had thrown the punch is the vice president of Afghanistan, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. And he did not stop there: To drive the humiliation home, he put his foot on the chest of his downed victim, a political rival named Ahmad Ishchi, who was then beaten by the general’s bodyguards, thrown into the back of an armored vehicle and taken away, said several of Mr. Ishchi’s relatives, many of them speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

“Dostum came there, and he walked around the stadium, — then he called Ahmad Ishchi over to him,” said Gulab Khan, a relative of Mr. Ishchi who was among about 5,000 spectators at the game. “After talking with him for a couple of minutes, he punched him, and his bodyguards started beating him with AK-47s. They beat Ahmad very badly and in a barbaric way.”

Considering that Dostum’s men started torturing Ishchi in public, it’s hard to accept Dostum’s argument that they didn’t torture him in private. And if you’re looking for a single, simplistic reason why the Afghan government can’t defeat the Taliban, the fact that the Afghan vice-president is apparently allowed to beat and abduct people at will is it. Systemic corruption feeds resistance.


The International Crisis Group says that a Rohingya insurgent group called Harakah al-Yakin, whose attack on Myanmar police in October led to the most recent round of anti-Rohingya atrocities, is led by figures with links to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia:

Rohingya who have fought in other conflicts, as well as Pakistanis or Afghans, gave clandestine training to villagers in northern Rakhine over two years ahead of the attacks, it said.

“It included weapons use, guerrilla tactics and, HaY members and trainees report, a particular focus on explosives and IEDs,” the group said, referring to improvised explosive devices.

It identified Harakah al-Yakin’s leader, who has appeared prominently in a series of nine videos posted online, as Ata Ullah, born in Karachi, Pakistan, to a Rohingya migrant father before moving as a child to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

“Though not confirmed, there are indications he went to Pakistan and possibly elsewhere, and that he received practical training in modern guerrilla warfare,” the group said, noting that Ata Ullah was one of 20 Rohingya from Saudi Arabia leading the group’s operations in Rakhine State.

Harakah al-Yakin has notably, so far, not engaged in any attacks targeting civilians. And it may as well be a case study in radicalization, seeing as how it formed in 2012 in response to the government’s flagrant mistreatment of the Rohingya people. There are concerns that, as the genocidal campaign continues, ISIS and al-Qaeda may begin to embrace the Rohingya cause (they already use it in their propaganda materials) and expand their activities into Myanmar. They’ll likely attempt to link with, or at least recruit from, Harakah al-Yakin. The existence of a Rohingya insurgency will undoubtedly be used by the Myanmar government as a justification for their ethnic cleansing campaign, even though the ethnic cleansing both predates and is the obvious cause of the insurgency.

South Sudan

The UN Human Rights Council’s special commission on South Sudan warned today that the country is on the “brink” of a Rwanda-esque genocide and/or “ethnic civil war.” The UN is still trying to make arrangements to deploy 4000 additional soldiers into the country in order to clamp down on the potential violence.

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